Ranking the greatest college basketball championship teams of the 2010s

Ranking the greatest college basketball championship teams of the 2010s

Illustration for article titled Ranking the greatest college basketball championship teams of the 2010s
Photo: AP

There are a lot of words you could use to describe a college basketball season that has been wrecked by COVID-19, but the best one is “weird.” Besides the blue bloods of Duke and Kentucky missing the tournament, and North Carolina and Michigan State having subpar years with even lower seeds than usual, freshmen aren’t the faces of the sport like they have been in the past.

With the 2000s being the first decade changed by the one-and-done, as it went into play in 2006, the 2010s were a decade defined by it, as programs had to make a decision: Are we going to recruit the best freshmen and have a new roster every season, or build stable recruiting classes every year. In the end, both were successful. Multiple programs with upperclassmen won titles in the decade in the same way the one-and-done factories did.

Here’s our ranking of the best championship teams from the last decade.

Saginaw Native. Morehouse Man. Syracuse (Newhouse) Alum. 2019 & 2020 NABJ Award Winner. 2016 PABJ Journalist of the Year. I only eat my wings lemon-peppered. And I like brown liquor & brown women.

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10. UConn, 2014

10. UConn, 2014

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Photo: AP

Standing in the shadow of his former coach — Jim Calhoun — Kevin Ollie was trying to bring a fourth title home to Storrs, Connecticut. In his way was John Calipari and Kentucky and the newest edition of the Fab Five, as the Wildcats were starting five freshmen (Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, Julius Randle, and Dakari Johnson) in an attempt to what Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson, and Jimmy King couldn’t do in 1992. Shabazz Napier was able to do his best Kemba Walker impersonation as the senior led all scorers with 22 points as the Huskies won their second title in four years.

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9. UConn, 2011

9. UConn, 2011

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Photo: AP

Cardiac Kemba.

To win a national title in 2011, UConn would need to climb an unclimbable mountain. That’s when Kemba Walker tied up his Timberlands and got to work. The Huskies needed to win five games in five days at the Big East Tournament just to get into the field, so they did. After that, they disposed of Bucknell, Cincinnati, San Diego State, Arizona, and Kentucky before they took care of Butler in the worst national championship game of all time. The final score was 53-41, as Butler shot a horrid 18.8 percent from the field, while UConn was able to connect on 9.1 percent of their 3-pointers. It was brutal to watch, but a win is a win.

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8. Virginia, 2019

8. Virginia, 2019

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Photo: AP

In case you forgot, Virginia is still the reigning champs. A season after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed — shout out to UMBC — and becoming the laughingstock of the sport, the Cavaliers were the last ones laughing when they cut the nets down in Minneapolis. UVA was down late, and I mean really late, in their last three games, and still found ways to win — which is what champions do.

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7. North Carolina, 2017

7. North Carolina, 2017

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Photo: AP

A year after Carolina lived through the ultimate heartbreaker when Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hit a buzzer-beater in the national championship game, the Tar Heels made sure to finish the deal. Carolina squeaked by Kentucky in the Elite Eight when Luke Maye knocked down a jumper with 0.3 seconds left. They survived against Oregon by one point in the Final Four and took down Gonzaga in the finals in another close one as they won by six points. The Tar Heels played it close that entire tournament as they almost lost to Arkansas in the first round, as they rallied behind a second-half comeback to win.

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6. Villanova, 2016

6. Villanova, 2016

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Photo: AP

Buzzer-beaters in championship games rarely happen. It’s just too dramatic of a thing to happen. Well, it was, until Kris Jenkins decided to tear the hearts out of North Carolina when he let it fly from deep. Jenkins’ shot was so memorable that it made people forget that UNC’s Marcus Paige had just hit a double-clutch 3-pointer seconds earlier to tie the score.

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5. Duke, 2010

5. Duke, 2010

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Photo: AP

Sexy they were not, but efficiency rarely is. A year before Kyrie Irving got there and Seth Curry was eligible to play, and a year after they had been blown out by Villanova in the tournament, Duke “finally” won another national championship after a nine-year drought. The unlikeliest Duke team to ever cut down the nets still stands as the last one whose starting lineup only featured juniors and seniors.

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4. Louisville, 2013

4. Louisville, 2013

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Photo: AP

Technically, this team “didn’t win it all,” as the NCAA made them vacate the championship due to the fallout from a sex scandal investigation, as the NCAA always seems to come sniffing around places that Rick Pitino has spent time coaching. But, since we all saw what that Louisville team did, it’s hard to act like they aren’t champions after beating Michigan in the Georgia Dome that year. And after Kevin Ware broke his leg against Duke in the Elite Eight, the Cardinals had extra motivation to cut down the nets, and they did, no matter what the NCAA says.

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3. Villanova, 2018

3. Villanova, 2018

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Photo: AP

Two years after Jay Wright won his first title at Nova, the Wildcats came back and got another one. Featuring six players that averaged double figures, Nova cruised to a 36-4 record that season. From the Sweet Sixteen on, Villanova won by 12 points (Texas Tech), 16 points (Kansas), and 17 points (Michigan) in the championship game. Oh, and their sixth man (Donte DiVincenzo) came off the bench to drop 31 in the finale.

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2. Duke, 2015

2. Duke, 2015

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Photo: AP

Throughout college basketball history we’d seen freshmen lead their teams to the promised land, but we’d never seen four of them have such a huge impact on their team’s championship run. Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Grayson Allen got it done. However, the thing that college basketball purists still discuss with that Final Four is that we never got to see that Duke team faceoff against Kentucky in the championship game — as they fell to Wisconsin in the semifinals — that was led by freshmen and sophomores in the ultimate “one-and-done” battle.

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1. Kentucky, 2012

1. Kentucky, 2012

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Photo: AP

A game-winning buzzer-beater in Bloomington against Indiana and a stumble in the SEC Tournament Championship Game against Vanderbilt are what kept this team from going 40-0. Equipped with seven NBA players on their roster, Kentucky was loaded that year that Anthony Davis was the national player of the year — as a freshman — and took the fourth-most shots on that team. They were so, so good.

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Saginaw Native. Morehouse Man. Syracuse (Newhouse) Alum. 2019 & 2020 NABJ Award Winner. 2016 PABJ Journalist of the Year. I only eat my wings lemon-peppered. And I like brown liquor & brown women.